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How Does Horse Betting Work?

You can have lots of fun at the horse races, but betting can be a bit complex. In this article, we share the basics of betting on the horses and provide sound advice on picking winners and placing good bets. Read on to learn more.

What Are The Types Of Bets In Horse Racing?

Basically, there are two wager categories. They are:

  • Straight Wagers
  • Exotic Wagers

If you are just starting out, straight wagers are safest, simplest and cheapest.

What Is The Difference Between A Straight Wager And An Exotic Wager?

On straight wagers, you choose a horse and predict whether it will win first place, second place or third place. You can usually make a straight wager for a very small outlay of cash (minimum $2).

An exotic wager lets you make several bets on several horses within one wager. To do it well, you really have to know how to pick your horses. It costs more to place an exotic wager, and it’s hard to win, but the payoffs are commensurately larger than straight wagers.

5 Choices In Straight Wagers

There are five different kinds of straight wager.

  1. Win: You pick one horse to win first place. If your horse wins, you win.
  2. Place: You pick one horse to win first or second place. If he comes in first or second, you win. Wagering to place doubles your chances of winning at all, but the payout is smaller than if you just bet to win.
  3. Show: With this kind of straight wager, you bet on one horse to win first, second or third place. This gives you more chances to win, but the payout is smaller than with a win or place wager.
  4. Across-the-board or combo straight wager: With this kind of straight wager, you bet that your horse will win, place and show. This is three separate bets on one horse, so you’ll bet a minimum of $2 three times (win, place and show). Your total wager will be $6. If your horse wins the race, you win on all three bets. If he comes in second, you win on place and show. If he wins third place, you win the show bet. It’s easy to see that this isn’t really a good bet. It’s expensive to place these bets, and it’s hard to win.
  5. Other combinations are possible. For example, you could bet on your horse to win/place or to place/show. Just like win, place and show, you are making several separate wagers on one horse and you may end up only winning one of the bets (or none). This is also a costly and risky way to place a straight wager.

With an exotic wager, you bet on several different horses with one bet. This gives you more potential to win, but this kind of bet is very hard to win. It can also cost a lot to place an exotic wager, and you have to be very good at choosing horses.

5 Choices In Exotic Wagers

There are five types of exotic wager.

  1. Exacta: With this type of wager, you are betting that two specific horses will win first and second place. You will only win if your first place choice comes in first and your second place choice comes in second. If you are very skilled at handicapping (choosing the winning horse) you can win a lot with this kind of bet. If you aren’t entirely sure which of your two horses will win first, you can “box” your bet. This means you choose two horses to win first and second in any order. This kind of bet costs double a regular exacta bet.
  2. Quinella: This is like a boxed exacta. You choose two horses to win first and second place in any order. The difference between a quinella and a boxed exacta is that the quinella bet costs half as much to place, and the payout is also less.
  3. Trifecta: This is like the exacta, but you choose three horses to win first, second and third place in a specific order. A trifecta bet can be boxed, just like an exacta so that you can win if your three horses win the first three places in any order. Just as with a boxed exacta, the cost of placing your bet is significantly higher.
  4. Superfecta: This is a very cheap and risky way to bet. You choose four horses to win first, second, third and fourth places. The good news is, you can usually place a basic superfecta wager for just ten cents. If you box your bet, it will cost you more.
  5. Keying is a highly advanced form of exotic betting that lets you make minimum bets for maximum payouts. The catch is you have to be a real genius at picking the right horses for the right places. This is not a venture for beginners.

4 Steps To Place A Bet

steps to place a bet

1. Support human employment. When you go to the racetrack, always deal with the human tellers, not the automatic tellers. You’ll get a more accurate and pleasant interaction, and you won’t have to stand in line so long.

Sometimes the lines for the automatic tellers get stalled because inexperienced bettors get confused and make mistakes or want to place lots of bets. Don’t be that bettor! When this happens, you run the risk of not being able to bet at all.

2. Be ready to deal with the teller quickly. Have your money in hand and know what bets you want to place. This is especially important if the race is just about to start. Don’t make other race-goers hate you by being disorganized at the betting booth.

3. You have to tell the teller these things in this order:

  • Racetrack number
  • Race number
  • Bet amount
  • Type of bet
  • Program # of the horse

4. Give your money to the teller and get your ticket. Be sure to put it in a secure location, such as your shirt pocket or your hat band.

What Is Handicapping And How Do You Do It?

what is handicapping and how do you do it

Handicapping is the art of choosing a winner. Doing it well relies on a lot of factors, such as:

Knowing how to read your racing program

This program tells you all the history and statistics on horses and jockeys. If you can understand it, it can help you make a good choice. You can learn how to interpret the racing program by visiting Equibase interactive guide.

Know the class levels of the horses you are considering

There are four different class levels:

  1. Maiden Races
  2. Claiming Races
  3. Allowance Races
  4. Stakes Races

Horses in higher class levels are proven performers with higher purses. Don’t take that at face value, though. Be sure to check each horse’s history to see what types of races the horse has run in the past. If he’s in an allowance race today but has run nothing but claiming races in the past, that information should temper your judgement.

Understand track surfaces and the effect they have on horses

There are three different kinds of track surface:

1. Dirt
2. Turf/Grass
3. Synthetic (all-weather)

Know the type of track your horse will be running on, and check your program to see how he has done with that type of track in the past.

Check the jockey’s past performance

Jockeys who win consistently on any horse have talent and greatly increase your horse’s chance of winning (and yours). You should also check the jockey’s history with the horse you’re thinking of backing. If he has a consistent history of wins, that’s good news for you. If not, take it as a warning.

Think about the odds

Look at your program and study the horses’ odds of winning. Low odds indicate the favorite (likely winner) based on past performance. Statistically speaking, when you bet the favorite, you increase your chances of winning. Betting the favorite to win gives you a 33% chance of winning, to place gives you a 53% chance, to show gives you a 67% chance.

If you know nothing else about handicapping a horse, go by the odds. It’s a simple way to increase your chances of winning. To be absolutely certain, choose the favorite and bet on him to show.

Look at the horses

Visit the paddock before the race and watch the horses. Look for signs of anxiety, lameness or illness, negative interactions with jockeys and handlers. Choose a horse who seems alert, attentive and enthusiastic. Steer clear of horses who are sweating profusely before the race even begins or exhibiting negative behaviors such as biting, kicking and rearing.

Personal luck also plays a part

If you have a favorite superstition, a lucky number or an eye for omens, by all means bring it into play.

How Do You Keep From Losing A Lot Of Money?

Take it easy. Pick and choose your races carefully and set yourself a budget. Don’t bet more money than you can afford to toss into a leaf shredder. You can enjoy a day at the track and learn a lot by betting on a couple of races and watching a lot of them.

If You Really Love Horses, Should You Bet On Them?

should you bet on horses

Horse racing is a popular and demanding sport, and nobody ever asked the 850,000 equine participants in the United States alone whether or not they wanted to participate. Racing is a big and controversial business, and many (if not most) racing stables make money by exploiting horses. Some areas that are problematic for people who are concerned with the ethical treatment of horses include:

  • Racehorses’ Ultimate Fate
  • Inhumane Training
  • Drug Use
  • Danger

Can you love horses and also support the horse racing industry? Here is some food for thought.

Ethical horsemen and women do not begin riding training until a horse is two years old and has fully formed bones and emotional maturity. Racehorses begin racing at two years old, so the intensive training to get them ready for it starts when they are very young.

Harsh training can damage a horse’s health and usually involves a lot of pain, requiring a lot of pain medications. Just as with human athletes, horse athletes are often subjected to steroid use by unscrupulous owners determined to win. Racehorses are often literally addicted to drugs.

Horses are exposed to a great deal of danger in the course of a race. According to the New York Times, at least 24 racehorses die on the track in the US every single week. This number is lower in countries that have tighter controls on drug use in race horses (e.g. the UK and Canada).

Jockeys are also exposed to tremendous danger as they ride mostly unprotected at speeds up the 35 MPH. Jockeys who are thrown or trampled or have a horse fall on them can be severely injured or killed. Unlike participants in professional sports such as football or basketball, jockeys have very low pay and do not have health insurance.

What happens to horses who stop winning?

Winning is the name of the game in horse racing. If a horse stops winning or just becomes too old to race (4-10 years old) he or she is no longer making money. As a general rule, stables don’t put these horses out to pasture. Some may be adopted out, but racehorses are hot and excitable and may be hard to place. For this reason, thousands of racehorses are shipped off to brutal slaughter in Mexico or Canada every year.

What Should You Do If You Genuinely Love Horses And Enjoy A Good Race?

As with everything that involves ethical choices, take your time, make wise decisions and vote with your pocketbook. In this case, if you want to bet on the horses, add another factor to the things you consider when placing your bets. Take the time to look into the history of the stables and find out how they treat their horses and jockeys. Don’t put your money on a horse that has been produced through unethical or inhumane practices or that is likely to be shipped off to slaughter if it loses a couple of races.

As betting activities go, horse racing is certainly much more savory than losing your shirt in a sketchy casino. It is the “sport of kings”, rich in history and tradition. At its best it can be a celebration of the talents of horses, riders, trainers and ethical breeders and stables. Arm yourself with knowledge, exercise restraint and make the most of spending a day outdoors watching beautiful horses run and enjoying a bit of a flutter.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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